An overwhelming majority of those who responded during a public consultation on the proposed cruise berthing project oppose the $150 million plan for new piers in George Town harbor.
Of the 473 public comments received by the Department of Environment, 347 objected to the project, 111 expressed support, and 15 were either neutral or undecided.
The supporting votes appear to be heavily skewed by a mass response from the employees of Kirk Freeport, who accounted for 85 of the “yes” votes. Many of the anti-port responses come from dive industry workers, though the only other “block vote” appears to have come from pupils at Montessori by the Sea school, where 13 youngsters wrote to object to the port.
The consultation exercise, though it brought out strong emotions on both sides, was not intended as a referendum on the pier project.
Wendy Williams, environmental assessment officer with the Department of Environment, said the main point was to get public feedback on the environmental impact assessment and ensure all concerns had been adequately addressed and explained. She said more general feedback and views on the project would still be included with the environmental statement to assist Cabinet in the decision-making process.
An analysis of the public responses, compiled by consultants Baird and Associates, concludes that the issue has “polarized the community.”
The public responses, printed in full in a 1,000-page document released Monday, largely reflect the public debate over the proposal to build two new cruise piers in George Town harbor.
The majority of those in opposition are connected to the marine and water sports industry or are tourists who cite concerns about damage to reefs and dive sites.
Those supporting the project are largely from the local retail community, the consultants note.
A breakdown of the responses, solicited as part of the environmental impact assessment process, suggests the “no” vote resonated more strongly with tourists.
Of the 347 respondents who objected to the project, 142 were residents and 205 were visitors. Of the 111 respondents in favor, 110 were residents and one was a visitor.
Much of the opposition focused on the adverse impact on the reefs and wrecks in George Town harbor.
Many of those in opposition to the project suggest it will do irreparable damage to the primary attraction that brings tourists to the Cayman Islands – its marine environment.
Some raised concerns about the cost and feasibility of a proposal to relocate the coral and the historic Balboa shipwreck in an effort to offset the environmental damage.
Of particular concern to tourists was the potential impact on the Eden Rock, Devil’s Grotto and Cheeseburger Reef dive sites.
Others raised concerns that the Cayman Islands’ infrastructure would not be able to handle the influx of tourists anticipated by those pushing for cruise piers in the capital.
Opponents of the pier also queried whether the economic impact would be worth the expense, suggesting most of the jobs associated with pier construction would go to work permit holders. The consultant’s conclusion that the project represented no threat to Seven Mile Beach was also questioned by some respondents in the consultation process.
Those in support of the project focused on the impact on the economy.
Some respondents cast doubt on the amount of coral habitat likely to be affected by the project.